Ahh, beer. The cause of- and solution to- all of life’s problems. While Homer Simpson may not be the man to take advice from, we tend to agree that beer is one of life’s great pleasures.
And nobody knows beer like the good people of Iceland, who have a bit of an odd relationship with the frothy beverage. An anomaly dating back to the prohibition of all alcohol in 1915 led to beer- but not any other alcoholic beverage- being banned for 74 years, with the beer ban finally being lifted in 1989. Icelanders didn’t really seem to miss beer, as they were typically more invested in harder liquor such as spirits, but nonetheless, the people celebrated when the ban was finally lifted.
With a drinking age of 20, tons of people show up to drinking events throughout the year. So here’s a handy list of some of the drinking festivals that take place in Iceland, along with some of the more popular bars to visit with your friends.
The Annual Icelandic Beer Festival
This is THE beer festival of Iceland. Hosted in February and going into its 9th year of festivities, the Icelandic Beer Festival is a four-day event in Reykjavik, the nation’s capital. Select local breweries are highlighted and enjoyed by many, with some international breweries making their way in as well. Getting a festival pass will get you exclusive access to the brewers themselves, who will provide you with samples and teach you about the beer-making process. The party culminates with a final event in the heart of Reykjavik which includes live music and exclusive beer alongside delicious pub food. It sounds like a great time for everyone!
Taking place just a week after the Beer Festival, Iceland collectively celebrates the end of beer prohibition on the day of the referendum, March 1st, every year. The event marked a great cultural shift in Iceland; beer is now the alcoholic beverage of choice in a nation where the drink was banned just 30 years ago. Reykjavik gets particularly wild for Beer Day, with pub crawls (known as Runtur in Iceland) being commonplace and bars staying open until 4 in the morning. While there aren’t any big events of festivals surrounding the day, Beer Day usually means special prices on beer at most of the pubs, so chug away!
Things of Note about Icelandic Bars
The bars in Iceland are more or less the same as anywhere else in the world in terms of etiquette and rules, but there are still some things you should know before heading out to the bars with your friends. For one, the legal drinking age in Iceland is 20, but many bars have their own imposed ages for entry, usually either 21 or 22. Keep this in mind if you’re on the fringe in terms of age, as you might need to plan ahead a bit. Beyond this, most of the bars do not enforce any sort of dress code. If you spent the day hiking up glaciers, you can waltz right into a bar in your boots and winter jacket if you really want to! Bars usually close at 1 a.m. from Sunday-Thursday, but close at 4:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Again, this can vary, but these are the general times of operation for the bars in Iceland.
Kex Hostel is one of the most popular bars in Reykjavik- and is also the host of the aforementioned Beer Festival! Situated in an abandoned biscuit factory, the building is an eatery and hostel as well as a bar. Live gigs are always playing nights at the bar, with several up-and-coming Icelandic artists making their way through Kex.
Kaffibarrin is a coffee shop by day, local night hotspot by night. With a vibrant dancefloor and a rotating set of DJs, this is a great place to go out and party in a high-energy setting. They serve a variety of drinks, such as Opal and Topas, which are liquorice liqueurs, as well as Icelandic vodka, known as Reyka.
The first cocktail bar in all of Iceland is Slippbarinn, located right on the Reykjavik marina. With a great view of the waterfront and a rotating list of tasty cocktails, Slippbarinn is popular for locals and tourists alike. Using house-made syrups and fresh-squeezed juices, this cocktail bar is an oddity compared to the more traditional bars surrounding it, but it represents the burgeoning cocktail scene in Reykjavik.
If you’re looking for a place that’s heavy on the ambiance, the retro French lounge Le Chateau des Dix Gouttes is the spot for you. A retro French cafe during the day, management completely renovates the room to make it appropriate for the lounge bar setting by night. They serve Iceland’s only wine brand, Kvoldsol, and are one of the few wine-dedicated bars in Reykjavik. They also serve charcuterie, cheese, and even waffles to go with your wine!
If you’re a true microbrewery nerd, Micro Bar is a great place to check out local brews. Hosting locally crafted beer from all over Iceland as well as international crafts, Micro Bar is colorfully adorned with murals by local cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson. It’s a great place to test your palette with various brews, and it’s located in the Center Hotel in Reykjavik.
Harlem is a great watering hole if you’re into the artsier side of Reykjavik. Hosting art freaks and hipsters alike, the interior of Harlem was painted and designed by sixteen of Reykjavik’s best street artists, giving the interior a colorful and energetic vibe. DJs get the dance floor grooving
every night, and it really completes the scene between the art and the music. A great spot for the feel and environment alone.
For a more low-key drinking experience, Olstofa Kormaks og Skjaldar is a much more relaxed setting than previous bars mentioned. With no dancefloor and a soundtrack you can talk over, this is a great spot for late-night conversation. On top of that, they serve their house brand Brio, which beat out 4,000 other beer brands to win the World Beer Cup competition in 2012.